The Ether Altars of Our Dead: A Memorial Address in 1875

I wanted to do something in honor of Memorial Day, and I thought the best thing I could do is let one of Mississippi’s Civil War generation speak. On April 26, 1875, J.P. Green gave a memorial address about Mississippi’s Civil War dead at Port Gibson. It was published in The New Orleans Times on July 10, 1875. Like most speeches from that era, it is very long, so I have just included some of the more interesting parts of the speech.

Green began his memorial by stating why it was so important that Mississippians remember those they had lost :

One more link is broken in the chain that binds us to the memoried past. A moment’s

Harrison County Confederate Memorial at Gulfport – Mississippi Department of Archives and History

hush in the busy struggle. A moment’s stillness in the rushing stream of life, all again as it was before; only a whole community to-day has mourned for the true friend, the tried comrade, the elegant scholar, and the honored citizen. All as it was before, only another soldier sleeps the last sleep, by the side of his comrades, the peer of the noblest there. A grief, all too sacred, forbids us more, and with a common sorrow yet hungering in our hearts, and the solemn words of “The Preacher” yet sounding in our ears, we have come to make our offerings upon these ether altars of our dead.

Once more upon the dial of time the hand stands still, pointing to the hour when it is most right, most becoming thus to gather in sacred reunion, to offer up the incense of loving hearts and tender memories to the dead heroes of a lost cause.

The present, with its busy realities fades from us, and the days of Lee and Jackson pass

Confederate Memorial at Laurel – Mississippi Department of Archives and History

in panoramic display, now illumined by some splendid success, now shadowed by some dark disaster. Our heart beats like muffled drums seem to have called from the far off Spirit Land a shadowy host, and as they pass in solemn review before us, we see standing up from each grassy mound, from nay a lone spot: where sleep the unmarked, but unforgotten dead soldier, forms who, as they join the Phantom Procession, exclaim: We too are your brothers in arms – comrades on the long and wearisome march, comrades in that last consideration of a heroic life – a soldier’s death – a soldier’s grave.

Green went on to name many of the places, so well known to Mississippians, where their kith and kin had fallen:

From Gettysburg’s fatal field: from Manassas, with her double crown of victory: from Richmond’s battle girdled, from Pensacola’s Gulf washed forts, from Carolina’s historic coast, from Vicksburg’s shell-plowed hills, from far beyond the Mississippi’s sea-like flood, from many a fathom deep, where the ocean’s lullaby had hymned their only dirge – they come, they come – our hero dead.

In still a later portion of the speech, Green stated how the terrible casualties that the state had suffered bound all Mississippians together in what he called “One great family:”

Each lonely mound, marked perhaps by some name that falls upon no familiar ear, is this

Confederate Memorial at Natchez – Mississippi Department of Archives and History

day tended by a sister’s love, mourned over by some aged father or mother, whose dead hero received at other hands the same gentle care they give the stranger here. Some sleep far from the homes or graves of all near or dear to them, but the air of spring, laden with the perfume of your offerings, perhaps will bear their sweets to a distant spot, to mingle them with a fragrance laid upon the grave of some one near or dear to you.

Near the close of his speech Green encouraged his audience to help build monuments to the South’s honored dead:

Every state, every county in the South should thus build up its memorials. Our land, so young in the grand drama of national life, is yet aged with the fiery baptism of woe and blood that has rested on it: that has made the jungled gloom of the Wilderness classic ground. That has made even your broken hills and darksome vales sentineled not but by the “Cold Capaulta and Magnolia’s gloomy bloom,” soil sacred by her strife and patriot’s grave…Go then from here to bear the wealth of your remembrance and love to offer around the graves of your dead.

Mississippians certainly took this advice to heart, and the results of their efforts can be

Confederate Memorial in Columbus to the soldiers from Lowndes County – Mississippi Department of Archives and History

found in every town square or courthouse lawn in the state, where silent soldiers cast in bronze or chiseled from stone stand guard for all eternity. Their work can also be seen in the graveyards that dot the Mississippi countryside where thousands of Confederate soldiers lie in neat, orderly rows with well-marked marble tombstones.

The next time you pass by a Civil War monument, or walk through a Civil War graveyard, take a moment to think of the Mississippians who fought for their state 150 years ago in the bloodiest war our country has ever known.

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One thought on “The Ether Altars of Our Dead: A Memorial Address in 1875

  1. I think he means aether, the medieval conception of the stuff that composed the universe beyond earth’s atmosphere. You could spell it ether, of course, but that has an ironic ring to it, since ether was first used as an anesthetic in the civil war, for soldiers undergoing surgery and/or amputation.

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